Exactly 26 years ago, Nigerians went to the polls in the Third Republic of its Democratic dispensation to elect a President, and brought to an end the continuous military incursions into power which robbed the nation of economic and Human Resources.
That election using the option A-4 method was conducted by Humphrey Nwosu the chairman of the National Electoral Commission and adjudged Nigeria’s freest and fairest. The transparency the option A-4 method brought to the process outweighed all criticisms from those who felt it was crude and outdated.
The two major political parties then were the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC). The candidates were African business icon, Moshood .K.O Abiola (SDP) and Bashir .O. Tofa (NRC).
Unfortunately the election was annulled when results already indicated a massive victory for Chief Abiola, eleven days after the conduct of the freest and fairest election in the history of the country.
But why is June 12 significant in the political history of Nigeria and Nigerians? Although different schools of thought have advanced different reasons, WASIU SALAMI highlights seven reasons why June 12 is significant in Nigeria’s Political history.
First, June 12 1993, remains a precursor to Nigeria’s Democracy Day. It was the first time Nigerians of voting age defied religious and ethnic sentiment and elected a candidate of their choice in an election adjudged to be the freest and fairest in the history of the country. Also, June 12, 1993, according to a political-economic school of thought is the real “Democracy day”. This is because, it was when Nigerians came out enmasse to vote for a democratic government, free from the shackles of military regime. It was the annulment of the election by the then Head of State Gen Ibrahim Babangida that gave birth to progressive and consistent agitations for a democratic government that finally materialized on May 29, 1999.
Second, the day is significant because of M.K.O Abiola and his Mandate. Just like former South African President, Late Dr Nelson Mandela, Moshood Abiola (Late) stood for his mandate as the winner of the June 12, 1993 elections. He paid with his life and did not accept any other offer aside the one he was given by the electorate. This is one of the reasons why the South-West states remember him by declaring public holidays to mark the day, while there have been repeated calls for the Federal Government to immortalize Chief M.K.O Abiola as an icon of democracy in Nigeria, until Prsident Muhammadu Buhari gave the day its befitting recognition.
Third, another factor that makes the significant and worth celebrating is the reflection on the role of Civil Society Organisations in shaping the Nation. The roles played by the CSOs in the June 12 struggle cannot be overemphasised. So, June 12 is a day to reflect on the role of Civil Societies Groups and Organizations like the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) and the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), and how they contributed immensely to the consistent agitation for democratic governance post-June 12. In addition, some leaders who played significant roles in this regard include; Gani Fawehinmi (Late), Dr Beko Ransome Kuti (Late), Dr Ayo Opadokun, Dr Olisa Agbakoba, Mrs Ayo Obe amongst others. Thankfully, President Muhammadu Buhari in 2018 recognised many of these heroes and heroines.
Fourth, apart from the roles played by the Civil Society Organisation and some pro-democracy leaders, the trade unions too were very active and significant in the June 12 struggle. Post June 12, 1993 groups like the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) led by Dr Asisi Asobie, and the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas (NUPENG) workers with the efficient Secretary-General then Mr Frank Kokori, carried out industrial actions persistently calling for democratic governance in the country. Also, other groups like the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Nigerian Labour Congress and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), contributed immensely to what we are enjoying today as democracy day. Hence, June 12 is worth celebrating.
Fifth, and more importantly, the day provides opportunity for Nigerians to pay tribute to the Advocates of June 12 and those who sacrificed their lives and that of their loved ones for the actualisation of democracy. Amongst those who died in the course of agitating for the June 12, 1993 mandate are Moshood Abiola, his wife Mrs Kudirat Abiola and Alfred Rewane. The efforts of Adekunle Ajasin (Late), Chief Abraham Adesanya (Late), Alhaji Balarabe Musa, Chief Olu Falae, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Chief Dele Momodu, Prof Wole Soyinka, Dr Frederick Fasehun, Col. Tanko Umar (Rtd), Dr Clement Nwankwo, Mr Chima Ubani, Lt.Gen Alani Akinrinade (Rtd) , Dr John Kayode Fayemi, amongst others were valiant, determined and resolute that democracy will be practised in Nigeria.
Sixth, the yearly celebration of June 12, reminds us of where we are coming from as a nation and the task ahead. Also, it provides the opportunity to share previous events with younger generation of Nigerians who might not have been born or were too young to have the direct feeling of the June 12, 1993 struggle. The day provides us with knowledge the strength in our diverse nature. Because Nigerians of voting age then defied religious and ethnic differences to elect a Nigerian who was considered the best candidate as their president.
Lastly, yearly celebration of the day, will reinvigorate in us, the spirit of oneness and togetherness in achieving a common goal. The efforts put in by different groups and tribes in ensuring Nigeria returned to civil rule, couldn’t have been possible if the heroes of June 12 were not resilient and dogged in their desire to restore democratic rule in Nigeria.
Without doubt, Nigeria would not have been enjoying “Democratic Rule” today if the June 12, 1993 annulment did not elicit resistance, consistent agitations and resolute demonstrations against the military regimes of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd) and Gen Sanni Abacha (Late) for democracy. it will be uncharitable and betrayer of history to forget the role of this date in Nigeria’s socio- political development as a nation.